The Royal Flying Doctor Service Tasmania team had super fun celebrating Dental Health Week (DHW) 2023 with SuperSillyUS Circus.
But there's a serious side to dental health that was part of our event and messaging throughout the week.
The focus of 2023’s DHW was the mind-body connection and the link between dental health and the whole body, including mental health.
During the week, RFDS Tasmania shared tips on caring for your teeth, which links to your overall well-being
As a provider of dental health services to rural and remote communities, and to the most remote communities by Dental Truck across the North of Tasmania, we are dedicated to promoting dental health.
And the first thing we want to discuss is the importance of regular dental checkups.
1. Regular Check-ups
Why you can’t afford to neglect your regular checkups! - Sadly we get many calls from people in pain and suffering from tooth and gum disease. And in many of these cases, the treatment options available at this stage are not as easy or nice as the ones which would have been available had the problem been discovered earlier.
How often should I get my teeth checked? – It is important to get 6- 12 monthly checkups and clean as your dentist/dental therapist can usually identify a problem before it becomes a major issue. This may mean a simple filling on a tooth instead of an extraction of a tooth. If left untreated or left too late, the options for treatment decrease, while the amount of pain and suffering increases.
By scheduling 6- 12 monthly checkups and cleaning, your dentist/oral health therapist can identify the early stages of tooth decay and gum disease, improving your outcome and maintaining a healthy mouth.
Rember, prevention is better than cure - and one of the best forms of prevention is early detection.
So book your next check-up today.
2. Prevention starts young (younger than you might think).
Again on the topic of prevention (because it's so much easier than treatment), we are talking about looking after the health of children’s teeth and setting them up for a lifetime of oral good health.
You can help keep your child’s teeth healthy by following these guidelines recommended by Australian Dental Association (ADA).
As soon as your baby’s first teeth appear (usually around 9 months of age) you can use a soft cloth or a soft toothbrush with water to clean them.
At 18 months and over, start using under 6 years old children’s toothpaste, a pea-sized amount on a small soft toothbrush and brush your child’s teeth. Encourage your child to spit out excess toothpaste after brushing, but not rinse.
Helping your child to brush their teeth twice a day – in the morning after breakfast and before bed at night. Do this until they are about seven or eight years old to make sure every tooth surface gets cleaned well.
Eat a variety of nutritious foods and have healthy snacks such as fruits
Limit, especially in between meals, sticking snacks including lollies, biscuits, chocolate and soft drinks, fruit juice and flavoured milk.
Tap water. Most tap water has fluoride in it, which is good for teeth and safe to drink.
Dental visit by the age of 1 or when their first teeth appear in the mouth and then 12 monthly checkups until the age of 18, when they may need to increase to 6 monthly.
Establishing good oral hygiene from an early age can help minimise the risk and occurrence of tooth problems later in life.
And children establish good habits easily if guided early on.
So, lead by example, and set your child up for a lifetime of healthy, happy teeth.
And when they come to see us, it will be all smiles 😊
3. What are teeth made of?
Dental health week is all about the health of our much-needed, but ‘often ignored until they cause a problem’, teeth.
But what are they made of and why do they get cavities and decay?
Your teeth are made up of 3 different types of tissue: enamel, dentine and pulp (nerves)
is the white crystal, tough outer coating that protects your teeth and stops harmful bacteria from getting in.
is the yellowish-hard layer that sits beneath the enamel and provides tooth support. It is not as tough as enamel and is more vulnerable to wear.
is the nourishing canal at the centre of the tooth, containing nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. It’s soft and needs protecting because if it becomes damaged, the tooth will be cut off from vital nutrients and neural signals.
Teeth differ from bones in that damaged teeth cannot regenerate. So you must do everything you can to prevent damaging them.
Well, we’ll cover that next...
4. So what causes cavities and gum disease?
We’re glad you asked.
Cavities, or tooth decay, are permanently damaged areas of your teeth, that develop into holes and are caused by bacteria in plaque. Plaque is a clear sticky film that coats your teeth (if you run your tongue over your teeth you can usually feel it).
It all starts with plaque.
When the sugars and starches aren’t soon cleaned off your teeth, the bacteria in the plaque begin feeding on them. Plaque can harden into tartar and tartar makes plaque more difficult to remove and creates a shield for bacteria.
And then plaque attacks.
The acids in plaque remove minerals in your tooth's hard, outer enamel causing tiny openings or holes in the enamel — the first stage of cavities. Once areas of enamel are worn away, the bacteria and acid can reach the next layer of your teeth, dentin. And this layer is softer than enamel and less resistant to acid. Dentin has tiny tubes that directly communicate with the nerve of the tooth causing sensitivity.
The path of destruction.
The bacteria and acid continue their march through your teeth, moving to the inner tooth material (pulp) that contains nerves and blood vessels. This becomes swollen and irritated from the bacteria and, because there is no place for the swelling to expand inside of a tooth, the nerve becomes pressed, causing pain.
Now you have an understanding of how cavities occur, you are closer to learning how to prevent them.
5. So who’s at risk of cavities?
Well, everyone – but the following increases the risk.
Location of Tooth.
Your back teeth are at greater risk of decay because these teeth are harder to clean and have lots of grooves, pits and crannies.
Sugary foods and drinks.
Particularly foods that cling to your teeth for a long time — such as ice cream, sugar, soft drinks, dried fruit, cake, biscuits, hard lollies and mints, muesli bars, cereal, and chips. These are more likely to cause decay than foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
Frequent snacking or drinking.
When your teeth are constantly exposed to sweet and sticky snacks or sugary drinks you give mouth bacteria more fuel to produce acids that attack your teeth and make cavities. And sipping soft drinks or other acidic drinks, such as fruit juice throughout the day creates a continual acid bath over your teeth.
Bedtime infant bottles.
When babies or toddlers are given bedtime bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids, these beverages remain on their teeth for hours while they sleep, feeding decay-causing bacteria. Similarly, damage can occur when toddlers wander around drinking from a sip cup filled with these beverages.
Not brushing twice a day and rushing.
If you don't brush your teeth daily and thoroughly after eating and drinking, plaque forms quickly and the first stages of decay can begin.
Missing on fluoride.
Fluoride, added to most water supplies, is a naturally occurring mineral, and it helps prevent cavities. It's also a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouth rinses. However, bottled water usually does not contain fluoride, so people drinking only bottled water, or tank water, may miss out on its teeth health benefits.
As with everything, over the years changes occur in our bodies and teeth can wear down and gums may recede, making teeth more vulnerable to root decay. Older adults may also use medications that reduce saliva flow, increasing the risk of tooth decay.
Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and plaque from your teeth. Substances found in saliva also help counter the acid produced by bacteria. However, certain medications, some medical conditions, radiation to your head or neck, or certain chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk of cavities by reducing saliva production.
Over time, dental fillings can weaken, begin to break down or develop rough edges. This allows plaque to build up more easily and makes it harder to remove.
Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth (reflux), wearing away the enamel of your teeth and causing significant tooth damage. Your dentist may recommend that you consult your GP to see if gastric reflux is the cause of your enamel loss.
Anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities. Stomach acid from repeated vomiting (purging) dissolves enamel while eating disorders also can interfere with saliva production.
6. Why the concern over tooth decay – isn’t it part of life?
Cavities and tooth decay are so common. And you might think it doesn't matter if children get cavities in their baby teeth. However, cavities and tooth decay can have serious and lasting complications, even for children who don't have permanent teeth yet.
Complications of cavities may include:
Swelling or pus around a tooth
Damage or broken teeth
Food impaction, (common - food debris accumulating in cavities)
Positioning shifts of adult teeth after baby tooth loss
When cavities and decay become severe, and left untreated you may have:
Pain that interferes with daily life and well-being.
Loss of enjoyment of food due to painful or difficult eating or chewing
Tooth loss, which may affect your appearance, as well as your confidence and self-esteem
Tooth abscess —a bacterial infection — which can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections
The best way to prevent cavities is through regular checkups and caring for your teeth.
And we’ll cover caring for your teeth next.
If you agree that prevention is way better than some of the consequences of tooth decay, then read on...
Tips to look after your teeth and keep you smiling!
Brush with fluoride toothpaste twice daily for 2 minutes. Make sure to brush your teeth every night before going to bed and every morning after breakfast. Important to floss daily as well. After brushing spit out excess toothpaste but don’t rinse it out to allow the fluoride protection to strengthen teeth and prevent decay.
Regular dentist visits. At 6-monthly check-ups, early signs of tooth decay and gum disease can be detected and treated early, and you will have a very positive experience!
Drink tap water. Which has added fluoride that helps to reduce tooth decay in the mouth.
Cut down on sugary foods and beverages:
We aren’t suggesting you eliminate sugar from your diet totally (that would be hard to do and not much fun), but go easy on the sugar! Don’t over-indulge in sweet snacks such as lollies, biscuits, crackers, cereals, dried chips and fruits and limit sugary drinks to meal times.
Avoid frequent snacking and sipping. If you snack or sip on soft drinks and fruit juices throughout the day, your teeth are under constant plaque attack.
Eat tooth-healthy foods. Nourishing foods encourage the growth of good microbes that protect teeth against plaque and infection – while providing essential nutrients to your body. Increase your intake of foods such as fish, yoghurt, and eggs and eat a variety of fruits and green vegetables.
Don’t smoke: As if you needed yet another reason to give up, harmful oral bacteria love tobacco, as well as the dry environment that smoking creates. If you’re a smoker, consider quitting for good. Please contact Quitline for support and useful resources.
There you have it - all things healthy teeth.
Because we care about the health of Tasmanians, and good oral health is linked to good overall health.